In a move that critics call a direct threat to the U.S. Constitution, federal legislation is moving forward in Congress to create a second, separate government in Hawaii solely controlled by ethnic and indigenous Hawaiians.
Proponents of the so-called Akaka bill — named for its primary author, Hawaii Democrat Sen. Daniel Akaka — say it would give native Hawaiians home rule and control of lands and other assets now being managed in their name by various state and federal agencies.
The Akaka bill appears poised for final votes in both the U.S. Senate and House, despite opposition from the Justice Department and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and growing pressure on the White House to veto the measure. Nearly identical versions have cleared committee hurdles in both chambers and now await only final floor action.
Supporters say the ethnic Hawaiian government would be similar to those established by numerous American Indian tribes.
But opponents suggest the Akaka bill is more sweeping than those pertaining to current tribal governments and maintain it would create a race-based government that assigns unequal privileges that are simply unconstitutional.
"Our founders shed their blood to create a nation that would not have special privileges based on birthright," Barb Lindsay, director of One Nation United, a nonpartisan public education group dedicated to defending private property rights and reforming federal Indian policy, tells Rod Proctor, NewsMax.
"This is contrary to that promise of equality under the law that was made to us under the Constitution."
In fashioning the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, Akaka says he simply wants the same government recognition granted to other indigenous groups.
"The intent and purpose of my bill is to bring about and extend a federal policy of self-governance, self-determination to native Hawaiians for the purposes of recognizing a government-to-government relationship with the United States," Akaka said in a recent interview on the radio program "Democracy Now!"
"I feel this is important at this time, because we are the only indigenous group in the United States that does not have this recognition," he says.
Speaking to the House Natural Resources Committee, Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie, also a Democrat, defined the bill this way: "What we’re trying to do in Hawaii is get the government out of the lives of native Hawaiians so that they can make their own decisions. The bottom line here is that this is a bill about the control of assets. This is about land, this is about money, and this is about who has the administrative authority and responsibility over it."
But Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, writes in the National Review that the measure is far different from those enacted for American Indian tribes.
"The bill doesn’t require a showing of historical political continuity, cultural cohesiveness, geographical continuity or autonomous community," he points out.
"Given that the bill would confer sovereignty primarily on the basis of race, untethered to traditional indices of tribal status, it would be surprising if other races/ethnicities didn’t follow the example of the bill. What prevents, say, Acadians, Cajuns, or Mexican Americans from doing the same?"
The bill, previously blocked by Republicans in the Senate in June 2006, would create a loosely defined native government to oversee some 2 million acres of land in the islands and about $15 million per year generated by use of that land.
Upon passage of the bill, the new government would negotiate with state and federal authorities over such issues as land ownership, revenue sharing, and criminal and civil jurisdiction.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates direct costs to taxpayers of about $1 million per year through 2010, and less than $500,000 each year thereafter.
The reach of the new government could potentially extend over as many as 400,000 people. About 260,000 people who claim native ancestry live in the islands, with about another 140,000 scattered across the United States.
Critics say local governments would be starved of money and resources by the bill.
"Greed, pure and simple" is motivating Hawaiian activists, One Nation United’s Lindsay tells NewsMax. "A small group of native Hawaiian activists think they can get more money, as a tribe, from U.S. taxpayers. And they also want to be given huge amounts of land in Hawaii worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"They’ve told local property owners not to worry, they won’t take their land, but in the future they should plan on sending property taxes to the new Hawaiian entity rather than the county. This is very much a threat to the tax base and to local governments in Hawaii."
With opposition coming from such White House-friendly groups as the Heritage Foundation and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, supporters have negotiated with the Bush administration on the final shape of the bill.
Among other things, authors have acceded to a White House demand that the native government be denied the authority to open gambling casinos.
Writes Norquist in an open letter to policy-makers: "The provisions of the bill open a Pandora’s Box of potential problems because details are to be negotiated with no limits specified."
© NewsMax 2007. All rights reserved.
Commentary: Have we all forgotten the "United" in the United States of America?? Division leads to problems not to progress! As far as giving native Hawaiians home rule and control of lands and other assets now being managed in their name by various state and federal agencies, like the American Indian reservartion system, the recent and on-going problems with these councils cheating their own people out of their share of Casino profits etc, shows that this is not a positive. The last Kings and Queens of Hawaii realized that belonging to the "United" States of America was the best for the Hawaiin people. Is there anybody left that wants to follow the rules and obey the laws… let alone enforce them?!?